The process of revitalizing a community always takes years. It often takes decades. Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed neighborhood success stories across the city.
South Side’s transformation, unseen two decades ago, is nearly complete. In East Liberty and Lawrenceville, commercial development and new housing are arriving every day, and in Oakland, residents are finding better homes and good jobs.
Meet four neighborhoods whose small steps produced big impact.
South Side: Where “Main Street” Has Captured National Interest
The comeback of East Carson Street, the heart of Pittsburgh’s steelworking South Side, is a success story more than 25 years in the making. Led by the South Side Local Development Corporation (SSLDC), the neighborhood has added 250 new businesses, renovated 230 storefronts, and constructed more than 100 new homes. On that foundation, market-rate housing and mixed-use development have flourished.
In 1985, the National Trust for Historic Preservation selected East Carson Street for its Main Street Urban Demonstration Program, with funds to revitalize an aging business district. SSLDC managed the Main Street program to restore century-old facades and jump-start businesses. A decade later, it achieved national recognition as a Great American Main Street.
After SSLDC began building 70 homes on the east side of Carson Street with public subsidies, private developers followed, with 99 units of senior affordable housing and more than 550 units of market-rate housing From 1996 to 2006, the median price of South Side homes appreciated at nearly three times the median rate of the city as a whole.
Thriving businesses on Carson Street spurred development of SouthSide Works, an award-winning private development on the site of the former Jones & Laughlin steel mill. Ongoing resident engagement kept neighbors involved in the 34-acre project. Community demands to connect the new development to the existing street grid and façade styles have produced a successful extension of the neighborhood into a regional shopping destination featuring national retailers.
East Liberty: From Vacant to Vibrant
For East Liberty, 1999 was bootstrap time. Seeking to reverse the loss of more than one million square feet of commercial space and four decades of decline and blight, the community devised a plan for jobs, housing, and retail around the historic shopping district. East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI) mapped a strategy, created a plan and seized a unique opportunity. A corporate developer, Mosites Company, proposed bringing organic grocer Whole Foods to Centre Avenue. Backed by the former PPND and other partners, ELDI took a calculated risk to invest in the project. A forlorn industrial stretch of Centre Avenue boomed, prompting a second development with other national retailers, such as Borders and Walgreen’s. National retailers inspired local ones, and a handful of local restaurants and small shops opened their doors in adjacent Penn Circle storefronts. The return on ELDI’s investment helped the organization double in size, generate revenues to implement a larger community plan, and acquire properties for future development.
Much of the success seen by East Liberty is attributed to the innovative East End Growth Fund, a pool of pre-development money from local foundations, banks, and non-profits. The Fund allowed ELDI to assemble development sites, set design guidelines, and match developments to community goals. Among those goals was significant investment in local housing. The community abolished blighted high-rise residential towers and rerouted traffic patterns to create affordable housing on historic street grids. More than 350 families now live in new townhouse rental units, and new and rehabbed single-family homes have reclaimed blighted lots. In 2008, the community announced future plans for a new “green” development: Mellon’s Orchard South, with 80 single-family homes and townhomes, will generate heat from geothermal tanks under a revitalized Garland Park.
Lawrenceville: New and Old Neighbors Roll Out Welcome Mat
After nearly a decade of grassroots efforts to fight blight, promote business growth and attract new residents, Lawrenceville faced its biggest challenge: the opening of the new Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in the heart of the neighborhood.
Spadework by Lawrenceville Corporation attracted 70 new design-related businesses to the 16:62 Design Zone, and Lawrenceville United enlisted residents and business owners to cut upper Lawrenceville’s crime in half. The new hospital, which opened in 2009, brought 3,000 staffers to Penn Avenue near Main Street. The ten-acre complex has the potential to transform the business districts there, as well as the neighborhood’s Butler Street corridor. Now, a stronger cleaner neighborhood is reversing perceptions and preparing to seize market opportunities.
Oakland: Connecting Local People to Local Jobs
In the midst of the city’s expanding medical–university complex, Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC) found a way to link local residents to new healthcare careers. OPDC’s Hill-Oakland Workforce Collaborative program has matched more than 2,700 people with local employers, making sure that economic growth benefits all sectors of the community.
OPDC’s Job*Links program helps people with little employment experience and high barriers to employment begin to build a work history. The Health Employment Access program prepares clients for jobs in healthcare by providing computer and customer service skills, medical terminology instruction, and CPR training. Through the School to Career program, ninth to twelfth graders learn the skills they need to pursue their career dreams. Since the program’s inception in 2001, the agency has helped 7,000 clients to better compete in the most vibrant sector of the local economy.
Despite a strong business core, the neighborhood needs help to replace deteriorating housing and unite residents in community care. Ongoing support from Neighborhood Allies provides both, giving the community a voice and a stake in the plans of large Oakland institutions. Responding to a common goal of a safe, healthy community, ten thousand volunteers have participated in OPDC’s clean-up campaigns.